Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day because the peace treaty ending World War I was signed in the 11th day of the 11th Month at the 11th hour in 1918. However, it is and always was the day we honor all the men and woman who have served their country in the armed services - those who are living, those who have passed away and those who have fallen in battle.
After reading The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh this week, I was a little curious about the poppy itself. The poppy, the flower so connected to veterans as a symbol of remembrance, has its own history that begins on the battlefields of World War I.
|Flanders before the fighting began|
World War I was a trench war, meaning that most of the fighting was done on the ground. Troops would dig deep trenches facing their enemy's trenches, fight until one side gained some ground and then move forward. It didn't take long for the lovely fields, meadows, and forests of Europe to be decimated wherever the fighting occurred. But the field poppy is a nice hearty flower that will bloom annually and those stirred up battlefields were the perfect place to germinate. In the spring of 1915, the first spring of the war, dormant poppy seeds, scattered by the wind, did just that, germinated and thrived on the battlefields. And so every spring of the war, the fields and meadows would be alive with bold red poppies swaying in the breeze.
It was during that first spring when he saw what nature had done with these fields, even in the midst of so much death and devastation, the John McCrea, a Canadian Lieutenant Colonel, penned his famous poem In Flanders Fields, as tribute to a fallen soldier.
|During the War|
Moina Belle Michael, who had already done so much for the soldiers and veterans of World War I even as it was just beginning, was so moved by this poem when she read In Flanders Fields, that she declared "I shall buy red poppies...I shall always wear red poppies - poppies of Flanders Fields. And so she always did as a symbol of remembrance, earning her the nickname The Poppy Lady.
The poppy was quickly adopted as the memorial flower by the countries involved in World War I.
That's because every year since 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars have distributed live poppies for remembrance. But live poppies were to get, so in 1923, it was decided that poppies, called Buddy Poppies, would be made out of crepe paper by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work, often providing them with a much needed income. Nowadays, the poppies are still made by disabled and needy veterans in the VA hospitals and veterans homes around the country. Not only does the money from the poppies help veterans personally, but it also helps the VA provide necessary services for rehabilitation and important programs for veterans and their families, including help for the orphans and widows and widowers of veterans.
And talk about honors: this year, if you happen to be in the NYC area, the annual Veterans Day parade will be honored with the participation of eight Navajo Code Talkers. I think that's pretty exciting. And the parade will go on as usual despite Hurricane Sandy and this week's Nor'easter.
And if you aren't around, check to see if there will be a Veterans Day parade where you live. These are always inspiring events to attend.
One last thing: it's always a good time to teach kids about Veterans Day. A very nice teaching guide is available here.